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<   No. 3638   2017-04-07   >

Comic #3638

1 Minnesota Jones: Nellie Horsford was her name. She was impressed by my measurement of Britain and we began courting.
2 Minnesota Jones: Then we spent some time excavating potential Norse settlements in Massachusetts.
3 Minnesota Jones: We found some human bones. Studied that one set of remains for months to work out how old they were. But then she broke up with me.
4 Monty: Why, what happened?
4 Minnesota Jones: She said we needed to date other people.

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There were several well-established Norse settlements in Greenland from the 10th century to the 15th century, which were in contact with Europe via ship for most of their history. For many years, archaeologists speculated and searched for evidence of Norse exploration or settlement of mainland North America, spurred on by Norse sagas about Vinland, a land found after ships bound for Greenland were blown off course by storms. If the sagas can be taken as historically accurate, the sailors did not land, but returned to Iceland and reported their findings. Icelandic resident Leif Erikson, decided to explore the stories and eventually made landfall, presumably somewhere on the Newfoundland coast or possibly even the mainland.

In 1960, the remains of an ancient settlement were found at L'Anse aux Meadows, which has been verified as being Norse. This site is at the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland, much further north than most archaeologists expected the Vinland settlements to be located. Prior to 1960, the prevailing theory was that "Vinland" quite literally meant "land of vines" or "land of wine", and so most of the work attempting to locate Norse settlements was concentrated around Massachusetts, which is the northern limit for where grapes can be grown.

So much so that in 1912 a man named Joshua Crane supposedly found a stone carved with Norse runes, just off the coast of Nomans Land Island, Massachusetts (now a designated national wildlife refuge). He contacted Edward Gray, a historian, who took photos and sent them to Oslo for deciphering. The runic inscription read "Liif Iriksson" followed by the Roman numeral MI, or 1001 - roughly the year Leif was supposed to have landed in America.

Unfortunately, the odds of a group of Norsemen using Roman numerals to indicate a year are vanishingly small, and it's likely the stone is a hoax. However, even though the location of the stone is known, it has not been studied further, because Noman's Land Island was used as a bombing range during the Cold War, so there may be unexploded ordnance all over it, and now it's a wildlife sanctuary, and nobody is allowed to go there without permission. Read the end of the Atlas Obscura article linked above ("stone carved with Norse runes") for details.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that indeed there were archaeologists fossicking around the Massachusetts coastline around 1900 looking for evidence of Norse settlements.

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